The Kurri Kurri Bulldogs lost the battle of the Coalfields against arch rivals Cessnock on Saturday afternoon, going down 24-16 in an enthralling contest.
The win leaves the Goannas undefeated so far in the 2012 Newcastle Rugby League season and extends their lead at the top of the table to four points over second-placed Kurri.
In front of a bumper crowd of more than 2000 at the Cessnock Sportsground, the Bulldogs were left to rue missed opportunities in a local derby that could have gone either way.
Kurri took the early lead with six minutes gone through centre Scott Dunn after a quality ball from Bulldogs player-coach George Ndaira.
The Bulldogs doubled their lead in the 22nd minute after a blind side raid saw Ndaira again put Dunn through a gap. This time Dunn drew Cessnock fullback Sam Wooden before finding Shannon Tanner to extend Kurri’s lead to 12-0.
The game changed six minutes later when it looked as though Kurri had scored again through Alfred Whaleboat.
But Whaleboat was ruled to have dropped the ball over the line and from the ensuing set of six Cessnock went the length of the field to reduce the deficit
This 12-point swing proved to be the turning point of the match as Cessnock took just eight minutes of the second half to level the scores when Chris Pyne grabbed the first of his two tries for the afternoon.
Four minutes later Pyne had his second and the momentum of the game looked to have swung the Goannas way.
But the Bulldogs hit back six minutes later when a Ndaira cross field kick was cleaned up by James Charles for Kurri to trail 18-16 with 20 minutes remaining.
Any remaining chance Kurri had though was snuffed out when a fine individual effort from Cessnock halfback Joel Brown saw the Goannas take a
24-16 lead which they were able to hold onto in the dying stages.
Kurri will look to bounce back next weekend when they travel to Peacock Field on Saturday afternoon to take on the Macquarie Scorpions.
Cessnock Goannas 24 (Tries C Pyne 2, S Wooden, J Brown. Goals S Wooden 4/4) def Kurri Kurri Bulldogs 16 (Tries S Dunn, S Tanner, J Charles. Goals G Ndaira 2/3)